I just read this fabulous article on the Pictorialists, the rise of photography to the status of an art (which, by the way, I discussed in my first blog post), and the way Hipstamatic and other apps introduced for the iPhone recently have tried to recreate that movement's feel. The article did a great job of explaining how Pictorialism came about organically as a reaction to technological advances at the time.
Originating in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and championed in America by Alfred Stieglitz, Pictorialism was a movement in the art world that placed value on hazy, dreamlike photos which emphasized light and mood more than actual readable scenes. It's often wrongly assumed that photos from this time period look so different from today's ultra-sharp images because the artists were limited by the technology available to them. In fact, it's quite the opposite; with Kodak's release of the first handheld camera for amateurs, the technology needed to make high-quality narrative photographs had just become all too available. It was no longer enough for professional photographers -- already working hard to earn the art world's respect -- to own and know how to operate complex photographic equipment. Thus, photographers who wanted to stand out as artists in a field now overrun with "snapshooters" began tweaking photography to look as similar as possible to what was already considered a serious art: painting.
Reading about Pictorialism in The Atlantic, I couldn't help but compare the cultural changes that photographers faced at that time with the cultural changes that publishers and writers face today. With the popularity of digital technology like the Kindle, the Nook and the iPad and of e-publishing in general, publication of a sort is available to more writers now than ever. Anyone with a bit of design sense and some familiarity with technology can create e-books and print-on-demand books. And with the increasingly common creation of new initiatives and imprints like Kindle Singles and Odyssey Editions, it seems that the variety of works and writers hitting your e-bookstore of choice is set to get more varied by the day. Never has publication been so accessible to the amateur writer.
That said, there are some definite differences between our situation as writers, readers and publishers today and the situation of those early-20th-century photographers: most notably, the fact that writing was long ago established as an art form. If you ignore the fact that many genres and target audiences still fight to be considered legitimate literature, you could say that we, unlike Stieglitz, don't have to try to romance the art world in order to prove that we really are artists.
Still, I think that most artists do try to set themselves apart from the masses, and it sure seems that "the masses" just got a whole lot more massive. What do you think? Is publication by an established house still enough to offer the kind of status artists often seek? Or, will writers trying to establish themselves as artists have to work harder to separate themselves from the masses in the greater world of publishing? Leaving aside nay-saying about the supposed shortcomings of web content, do you think literary writing is going to change as a reaction to technology? Where are we going to see those changes -- in style, in format, in content, or somewhere altogether different? Please, Writer Friends, do enlighten me!